The Precision Agriculture team at Auburn University was founded more than a decade ago, but over the past two years has been actively working to get its information out both to the growers it serves and to interested parties around the world via the Internet. Its website, www.AlabamaPrecisionAgOnline.com, in tandem with a concerted effort to disseminate information via social media outlets, has successfully educated growers on the benefits of precision technology and spread the word about site specific practices and products throughout the nation.
John Fulton, who leads the effort with a team faculty, staff and students at Auburn, recently shared some thoughts on the initiative’s goals and progress.
Why was this plan to focus on using the Web originally conceived?
We were getting a lot of questions from the field about precision ag technologies and site specific management, so it made sense for us to have a kind of one-stop-shop web page for material and information and resources to address these questions, and using social media to expand and allow others to know what we are working on .. .we figure if there are a couple farmers asking the same question that there are others out there asking the same questions across the US.
What are some of the projects that your team is working on this season?
The biggest topic of interest here in Alabama, as well as across the southeast, has been variable-rate seeding. There have been a lot of questions and interest from growers on how to develop management zones in general but mostly interests have been for seeding. We have focused on addressing zone development based on this interest from producers. We provide information back to the producers, or in some cases consultants, on the mechanics of developing management zones and we empower them to decide how they want to assign rates to the zones. We also help them selecting and then properly setting up the technology needed to conduct VR seeding, including hydraulic drives, displays, and software.
Another topic that continues to grow is RTK GPS adoption, primarily for automatic guidance. But along with steering, growers want to take that higher level of accuracy and use it for other purposes, such as automatic section control, seeding, and harvesting. They are looking to take full advantage of the technology they have invested in and spread costs over as many acres as possible. Finally, they are interested in the types of RTK networks and connections available that will provide the most reliable positioning whenever they need it, but especially during peak use periods of the season.
Last, while we have not seen a lot of adoption in the area of crop sensors, we are getting questions about it from growers. So we initiated a demonstration program this year in partnership with Hagie Manufacturing along with Topcon and Trimble using theses different sensors on the market. This approach allows producers to utilize the technology for a period of time to see how it works on a self-propelled sprayer and how it might be successfully integrated into their operation for site specific management purposes. We’re looking at using the technology in-season for collecting data and turning it into a prescription map for subsequent applications of nutrients or even conducting real-time application of nutrients or cotton inputs (e.g. plant growth regulators and defoliants). Our demonstration program has been very successful over the past 3 or 4 years with our producers.